Wedding Gift Registry Rules of Etiquette

The gracious way to approach your nuptial gifts.

There is a wonderful balance between unspoken tradition when it comes to registry options, and the need for very explicit, detailed registry information. Read these etiquette tips from Anna Post!

Photo: Photograph courtesy of Crane & Canopy

I still remember the first time I saw The Philadelphia Story, a classic black-and-white film starring Katherine Hepburn (at her most lock-jawed and blue-blooded) alongside Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. The theme of the film was her (latest) wedding, and one of the scenes that stands out in my memory is one in which table after table of presents are in view. Formal china, full sets of silver, crystal glasses by the carton-full… extravagance was the point, and the film made it well. Many couples still add formal items to their registries; however, there is now a much broader mix of fun and everyday item options, too, from margarita makers to pots and pans. This makes the gift registry much more accessible for guests with a range of budgets and interests – after all, gift givers should feel good about the wedding present they choose for you... even if they are choosing items from a store selected by you and your beloved.

The Basics

The etiquette of wedding gifts and their registries is one of the funniest topics I talk about with brides, family, and guests. There is a wonderful balance between unspoken tradition when it comes to registry options and retailers, and the need for very explicit, detailed registry information. On the one hand, invitations carry an unspoken obligation to give a gift, regardless of whether or not a guest can attend. However, there is no mention of presents on the invite itself – not even “no gifts, please” – and never any mention of registry information on a wedding invitation.

Information about registries is traditionally spread to friends and family members by word of mouth: The couple lets their close family and friends (usually the bridal party) know the stores or retailers at which they are registered, so that they can help answer questions from attendees. As a guest, it’s okay to ask about the registry and which store options are included, even of the couple themselves.

The popular wedding website has also given couples another terrific option to share the list of stores and other registry information with friends and family. You can post a link or links to your online registries or list your brick-and-mortar stores with contact information right on your website. Since this site is a place for loved ones to come for a list of practical information about the celebration, such as hotels and flights, registry information will fit right into this helpful category.

Wedding Gift Registry Etiquette

Registries are incredibly organized and helpful with a list of items requested by the couple, and it is not “greedy” to register. Most attendees find registries a very efficient way to select items from a gift list that the couple would like, would need, and that wouldn’t be duplicated by other friends and family members. While it’s okay to have more than one registry, draw the line at three store options. You want to be helpful by offering your guests variety, not self-indulgent by listing your every wish in the world on your registry. Add items in a range of prices as well to ensure your family and loved ones have an array of options to choose from on your wish list.

It’s fine to have a less traditional registry – one with gardening equipment or camping gear from an online site versus a brick-and-mortar store – but include a traditional registry, too, even if it isn’t very full. Many family members and attendees, especially older ones, will feel much more comfortable with a few classic options included in your gift list. As shower presents are typically less expensive than these types of registry offerings, it might be a good idea to also set up a shower registry separate from your wedding registry that includes lower-priced items, especially if there is a shower theme. This shower registry can include the same store options, or entirely different ones.

The best registries have a mix of both prices and types of items, so that all of your guests will feel comfortable finding something they will be excited to give you on your registry. An eager young groom once asked if it was okay for him to register for an electric razor for himself that he liked at a particular store. Technically, there isn’t a “rule” against it. But there’s also a high likelihood that the razor will linger unchosen, as it’s a personal item, rather than something for the bride and groom to share in their new life together.

“Registering” for Cash

It has always been acceptable to give cash (or a check) to the bride and groom; it is also now okay for the couple to signal that gifts of money would be welcome. As with registries, give this information out by word of mouth: “Of course we would love anything you get us, but we could really use help with a down-payment on our first home.” It’s technically okay to say “cash,” but if that makes you uncomfortable, “donation,” “help,” or “contribution” are all good substitutes. While there are websites that help to facilitate cash offerings, it’s best to have at least one other online registry or store registry as well, as many guests may not feel comfortable having no traditional gift options to choose from (making off-registry gifts a must). Just remember: in the end, the choice is always up to the giver, so great-aunt Edna might still buy you a blender.

The One-Year Myth

At the risk of causing much disappointment or panic, it’s a myth that you have a year to send thank-you notes for your presents. In the best-case scenario, thank-you notes are sent out within a day or so of receiving a gift. This isn’t just to be super-bride; it keeps you from being bogged down later on, and it also lets the giver know that their gift has been received. So, that said, between caterers, dress fittings, showers (which come with their own set of thank-yous), and your day-to-day job, it’s understandable if you fall behind. Should this happen, aim to have all of your thank-you notes sent within a month of returning from your honeymoon. Still worried? Thank-you notes can also come from the groom!

For more wedding-registry inspiration, be inspired to add color to your wedding registry items, and take a look at popular wedding registry ideas!